First the good news: Charles County elementary school students in grades 2, 4 and 6 will not have to take the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills this spring, the school board decided Tuesday.

But students who were looking forward to one less standardized test have little reason to rejoice: The Board of Education voted to administer a county end-of-year exam in those same grades instead of the CTBS.

Board members Kathy Levanduski, Collins A. Bailey, Rebecca B. Bridgett, Cecil Marshall and Donald M. Wade supported the change. Mark J. Crawford and Margaret Young, citing concerns about losing test scores that could be used as a benchmark for progress, voted against dropping the CTBS, a national exam.

Like many school systems, Charles used the CTBS to measure how well teachers taught and students learned. It was especially useful because it provided individual student results and could be used to compare with schools nationwide. It also guided individual instruction plans -- for example, students who scored low on the CTBS often were recommended for summer school.

The test was particularly helpful during the decade of the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, or MSPAP, an annual state test that ranked only schools, not students.

But MSPAP has been eliminated, and the state will give a new test this spring in grades 3, 5, 8 and 10. In 2004, the new state test also will be given in grades 4, 6 and 7.

With the state facing a budget crisis, Maryland education officials seeking ways to cut costs gave county superintendents the option of not giving the CTBS this spring in grades 4 and 6 -- at a savings of about $600,000 -- but said it would pay for the test in second grade.

After this spring, the state will no longer administer the CTBS and will not include the scores in its annual report. But in the test's final year, many school systems, including Calvert County, have opted to give the test in second grade, said state education spokesman Ron Peiffer. Montgomery County will give the test in all grades, paying about $20,000 total for the exams given to students in fourth and sixth grades, said schools spokesman Brian Porter. St. Mary's will administer CTBS this spring in grades 6 and 7, and Margaret Brent Middle School will give the test to eighth-graders.